5 ways to determine fact from fiction when looking for health advice



In my last post, I said I would show you how to determine the truth and relevant info from all the health promotion literature flooding our inboxes.  With medical info, it can be quite straightforward, as, medical practitioners’ work is based on medical research and studies and therefore, a lot of studies are performed to gain knowledge into medical health.  This gives us a vast array of literature to review and gain truth from.

1.  Hypotheses

A hypotheses is a research question that the study hopes to answer, using these we are able to determine a result from using usually 2 variables ie does fast food make people fat.

2. Study size

One of the first ways of filtering the studies is to see the sample size, meaning the amount of people used in the study.  The more people used, the more likely the results are to be an accurate representation of the population.

3. Type of study

There are a variety of ways in which research studies can be carried out and they can be placed into 2 categories: Experimental and Observational.  The first choice for many medical researchers is to use Randomised Controlled Trials (rct).  This is an experimental form of study where people are usually divided into two groups; control group who are given either no treatment or a placebo and the experimental group who receive the research treatment.  Ideally, these studies should be double blinded, meaning that neither the participants nor the researchers know which group the individuals are placed into.  Casecontrolled studies are observational and usually performed retrospectively (after the event).  A group of people who are being researched by age/illness/location/gender etc will be compared to a group of people who do not match these profiles.  The results are not as accurate as with rcts, but can be still relevant.  There are also systematic reviews which examine studies already undertaken and compare to each other to find a valuable result.

4. The results from the study

This can be a little more difficult to get, I certainly struggled with this the most when studying medical research. I’ll try to make is as easy to understand as I can, what we need to know to make the results reliable and relevant is to see whether there is statistical significance between the variables.  If there is a noteable difference between the variables, it means that is is more likely to be reliable and less likely to be coincidental.  Researches will publish a p-value as part of the study results and what we are looking for is a value as low as possible i.e. p=0.01, this means that there is a 1% chance of the results being inaccurate.

5. What do other studies say

Whilst a bit more time consuming, a really good way to know if what you are reading is reliable, see what other studies on the same subjects find.  Obviously if there are a larger number of studies which say the same than ones that repute the results, it can be determined that the research was reliable and the results, true.  If it is the other way, naturally, the opposite.



However ….

Not all the information we read has been found through these kind of research studies, but this does not necessarily mean that we should ignore this type of literature as it still could be useful and indeed, I’m sure that a lot of the published material on health advice is valuable and could well be accurate.

Unfortunately, because I am trained to look for medical research, I find it hard to believe other literature without the results that I know can show reliable results.

This is a quandry for me as, since becoming ill, I’ve become more and more convinced that holistic therapy and nutrition are key in health and there is not nearly enough research done on these issues to be seen as reliable.

I am trying to see things more holistically, but think it may still take some time aaarrrrggghh!!!


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